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tavis: good evening from los angeles. tonight a conversation with bruce feiler the author of best sellers author like "walking the bible." the new book draws a line through the teachings of
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moses. last year he was diagnosed with cancer. a subject he will tackle in his next book out in 2010. we're glad you joined us. bruce feiler coming up right now. >> but there are so many things that walmart is looking forward to doing. like helping people live better. mostly we're looking forward to helping build stronger communities and relationships. the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance. working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you.
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tavis: bruce feiler is familiar to many pbs viewers. based on the book of the same na. other books include abraham and where god was born. his latest is called "america's profit." >> great to be back. >tavis: why is moses america's prophet? >> i had spent a decade traveling around the middle east looking at this kind of combustion of religion and politics and it seemed the debate was headquartered in the middle east. transferred back here. americans were in this, and
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ground this time i'd like -- i began, my wife gave birth to identical twins and we saw people, we had to go to them to get some help. when i went on board there was this guy reading the bible. i said what are you reading and he said texas. -- exodus. in my home town there is a letter from george washington where he credits the success in the revolution to the same god who freed the israelites. here is moses in the middle of the revolution. i kept saying ben franklin recruiting moses. harriet tubman all the way through to dr. king comparing himself to moses. i was shocked by the number of references and i said i should go through this journey and
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retrace influenced more americans. his name is moses and he is our true founding father. tavis: you write about him and i am stunne about the parallels. what is the connection between these americans and moses? >> the connection is america is about to leading them out of a difficult and challenging place and taking them to a new and better place. we live in troubled times now. the word egypt means a constricted place. anybody who spent time in a constricted place, it was the pilgrims. there were living in england and holland. they crossed the sea and went to an untested wilderness, set out to create a promised land and alter their lives, was the story of moses.
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they quoted the moses on the mayflower and it offers people the idea that you can create a better world. the pilgrims used all through the revolution. at its heart, it is the idea that not america about what america will be. moses is the patron saint of what america will be. there is a possibility you can create a better tomorrow. tavis: is the prerequisite being able to call down moses, two parallel moses, is it oppression -- is the requisite oppression? >> the other is the heart of the story is the tension between freedom and law. he leads the them across the red sea and there is some lawlessness and there is the 10 commandments. july 4, 1776.
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it was a thursday. immediately after passing the declaration. the congress asked three people to come up with a seal. three people were thomas jferson, john adams, and benjamin franklin. six weeks later, they make their recommendation. it should be moses leading the israelites. these are three of the five drafters of the declaration. three of the defining faces of the revolution. they thought moses should be the face of the new united states. the parallel goes deeper. it is freedom, we escaped from england but it is law. in the bible, it is moses. one figure brings down the can -- 10 commandments. george washington leads the americans to freedom and presides over the constitution. when washington dies, there are 450 mock funerals around the u.s.
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the eulogies compare washington to moses. he also was a reluctant leader. not a man of words. who then let the people at a freedom and brought down the constitution. tavis: which raises a wonderful idea. which is for those of us who know the story, moses was reluctant. he did not want to be a leader. he wanted no part of this. talk to me about that. >> he murders -- he is raised in slavery and raised in the him there as house and he sees the overseer. he aligned himself with the suffering and murders the overseer and fleas and goes to the burning bush. -- flees and goes to the burning bush. i think of it as being like ogle sam. your country needs you. -- being like uncle sam. do not choose me but god
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persuades him and aligned himself with suffering. that is the third element of why this has endured. the theme of the story is we must build a society that nurtures all its people. the liberty bell, it comes from leviticus 25. in the section called the holiness code. the most sacred statement in the text. it says take the hurting in your arms. uplift the suffering. free the enslaved and build a society that nurtures all of the outsiders. it is that idea, that is why the liberty bell becomes when the slaves are singing, they go back to the liberty bell. suffragette's go to the liberty bell and king goes to the liberty bell. that is what is surprising. the story was introduced into
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america by white male protestants and blacks use the same stories and jews and women used the same story and used to claim their place. >tavis: let me say this. i am happy to see it. if moses is america's prophet, i do not see a lot of moses-like folk today who are leading our country. if moses is siding with the week and not -- you know where i am going. if moses is siding with the the disenfranchised, if that is where he resides, he is our prophet. why do we not see leaders like him today? >> the five books of moses a beeper and strangers.
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-- biffar and the strangers. there are a lot of reasons for this. barack obama stood up and they had this connection over roses. he said the civil rights generation is the moses generation. the successor had a job to do. he had to leave them over the river into the promised land. what barack obama says it is i will be the leader of the joshua generation and take us over the river. here we are less than a year into the presidency. he is facing an entrenched establishment and a rebellion from his own stiff neck followers on the other. i read this piece about what obama can learn from moses. you are not joshua. you are moses all over again and remember you are still out there having to deal with the people who are frustrated and
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unfortunately, as you know, as you were implying, while the story may be remember the outsider, befriend the outsider, those in power are more aligned with the people in power as opposed to the disenfranchised. tavis: how is it that we celebrate these men and women who called the down moses. we celebrate them but we want to dismiss their methodology. >> the -- what is interesting is the story has the ability to continue to inspire and the people are going to call out the leaders, every generation will send forth as you said a moses. that is what is powerful. after the revolution there was an establishment but there was a
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little bit of old egypt and slavery left behind. this is why the slaves went back to the story and sang "it down moses." this is the success of the civil war. lincoln again, a moses-like figure and we had jim crow and somehow, because there are disenfranchised left behind, the story circles back. why? at its heart is a field narrative. he never makes it to the promised land. that is why the story gets reinvented. failure and disappointment and being disheartened is at the heart of the story. which is where people can see what a new leader. >> then there is the samuel beckett formulation. try again and fail again and feel better. tavis: let me flip it on you.
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i am wondering for all that i have said, we need a moses. i wonder whether or not to mosmoses would be respected tod. i was in a conversation about dr. king. we were working with this notion of how king would be regarded and treated, how he would be able to navigate or not the world today. i'm not sure that moses would have the kind of impact today that he had back in th day. the world is so cynical. if you are always talking about the poor, if you are talking about the least of these, that is politically incorrect. you talk about poverty, no one wants to hear about poverty. the word party does not come up. if moses reappears, how was he treated? >> let's go back to the moment. i stood in the mason temple.
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it is at -- thrhere king went so went there and made that speech. he said in been to the mountaintop, i have looked over and i have seen the promised land. i will not make it there with you but i know we as a people will make it. i sat with the ambassador and he was there. this is unbelievable he said that. what he said to me was, martin often gave that speech and he went to the dark place initially snapped out of it. on this night he let the darkness leader. what andrew young said is i felt very frustrated. how could you leave me here by myself? i would much rather have been shot then try to lead these people without you. what he also said was, that is why king got elevated into the
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prophetic role that he had. he did not have to deal with it. there is something about these figures to elevate about history. what is powerful is what king said. i may not make it their but u.s. people, we as a people are going to make it there. -- e.u. a people, we as a people are going to make it there. it is to prepare us to make it without you. what i would tell to my daughters is, the story is about the power of story. the egyptians built pyramids and the israelites built stories and is about the power of story and this year we are slaves. next year, we can be free. the ultimate lesson is a calls on us to act. the most this story evangelizes action. -- moses story evangelizes
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action. do not be surprised if you come up short. the ultimate lesson is the dream does not die with the dreamer. the ultimate destination is not this year. it is the next. to me, be your own moses. these people we're talking about here, the pilgrims, george washington, abraham lincoln, harriet tubman, people were not born to greatness. they were ordinary people who found in the story the way to make themselves great. be the moses. each of us has the ability to imagine that promised land and to lead people to get there. tavis: i hear you. here is the question. you have to have a reason to believe, people have to have reason to believe. i always make the distinction between hope and optimism. optimism suggests there is facts or conditions, something you can see and touch the gives reason to believe things will get better.
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hope and faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. to be moses, you have to be able to give something to believe in. a reason to believe. i am not sure that the story is the reason. >> the fact that it is there and the fact that every generation in this country, why is moses america's prophet? you could only read the bible in latin. we got it in english and people were exposed to the bible. the story is hard to separate from the american dream. the pilgrims, they are an example. the father -- founding fathers are example. harriet tubman, an example. abraham lincoln freeing the slaves. martin luther king walking with those people into it fire hoses of water, singing these
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spirituals, that is the proof. the proo every generation has gone back to the story and been inspired. do not tell me there is no proof. the proof is why you are here. free and able to do nothing or to do something. tavis: does anyone, any particular people who are oppressed have the right to call down moses? >> i am not sure who is the giver of that right. i would say anyone who feels that their view as oppressed provided what they are offering is not some version where they get to impose their will on other people. there are some conditions here. tavis: because if you are on the palestinian side of the conflict, you can call down
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moses. if you're on the israeli side, we are being oppressed by these neighbors who do not want to live in peace, we will call down moses. can anyone who feels that they are pressed call this down? >> i think you can call down the story or call up the story. you can talk about the story and what about the story. -- walk about the story. there is a difference. i do not believe that the story, while it is an inspiration and a metaphor and a story that has inspired these people to make the world a better place, i do not think you can use it to solve geographical disputes or right law based on this law, to get into drawing borders and deciding that kind of thing. the relic -- in the middle east, long before mos set out for the promised land, that was a disputed piece of land. before he got there, no one has been able to control it before.
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the real lesson, the biblical lesson about the promised land is it is a strategically important piece of land that no one will control. it will have some shared existence. tavis: can persons who happen to be agnostic or atheists revel in the story? >> absolutely. it does not depend -- the original story came from the fact that god had this relationship. you need hope. it is in the bible and they do not have the distance we have from the bible today. i think that the essence of the story is you can be in a difficult place. you can imagine a better place. you can leave that difficult place. you will have challenges along the way. but then you can create a society that nurtures all of its people. that does not depend on having got at the heart but i do think if you are going to talk about america, the secular story and religious stories have been
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there, always have an intention, you cannot remove the bible. tavis: moses was initially reluctant. what are the lessons that we can learn from the story of moses? from the man. >> that he is a man. he is reluctant to leave. he gets angry at god. he has doubts. he is not a man of words. and yet the leadership comes from a very different ple. i think the ionnumber one lesson is you do not have to be perfect. i think there is another kind of figure in jesus while moses is a different kind of figure. think of that moment, the voice in the burning bush saying you have a life here. you are living in the desert and
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you are a nice shepherd. you want to keep the comfoable life? or try to free these people who have been enslaved for centuries and time and again, every time he makes a decision, on top of mount sinai, everytime, the leader chooses his followers. he aligned some self with the suffering and says my role as a leader is to make everybody better. not to do what is in my own best interest. >tavis: you have pictures of abraham lincoln and george washington. how do everyday people in body of the moses formulation -- embodied the moses formulation? >> you have the tablet in her arms and spikes around her head. the plot -- the pilgrims comparing themselves to moses. looking up at that simple. that is a symbol of what is
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great about america. america stands for building a society that nurtures everybody and that can represent a set of values that can enlighten and give hope to everybody and in light in the world. that is the feeling that people have looking at that statue with the nimbus of light and the outstretched arm. that is the symbol of america letting the world and the symbol call us to go to those higher values. as a german philosopher said, ever since exodus, freedom is spoken with a hebrew accent. that comes from the text and that is how god is in the american dream. tavis: it is hard to imagine giving energy to this conversation, bruce feiler is on a battle against cancer. i cannot wait until you get that book out. with these two pressures identical twin babies. i am glad to have you on.
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back in a moment with some programming notes. stay with us. a few quick notes about upcoming programs. tuesday, join me with harry connick, jr. he continues to be one of the most visible ambassador for rebuilding efforts including the creation musicians village. then paul mooney is here, "black is the new white." on thursday, andre agassi with a memoir on friday, 50 cent who is out with a new cd. monday, november 23, we will be
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broadcasting or rebroadcasting recent conversations you may have missed. kicking off with serena williams and then kris kristofferson. dave mathis and richard belzer. it can go to our website -- you can go to the web site to check out the dates and times. then a conversation with viggo mortensen in "the road". viggo mortensen monday, november 30. that is our show tonight. you can catches o us on pri. i will see you next time. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at
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>> turn me next timjoin me nexte redding. >> there are so many things that walmart is looking forward to doing. we're looking forward to helping build strong communities and relationships. because of your help, the best is nt to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance. working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you.
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>> we are pbs.
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Tavis Smiley
WHUT November 13, 2009 10:00pm-10:30pm EST

Series/Special. Lance Reddick. (2009) Author Bruce Feiler; actor Lance Reddick. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY America 12, Us 7, Washington 6, Bruce Feiler 4, Moses 4, Bible 4, Harriet Tubman 3, Viggo Mortensen 2, Dr. King 2, Israelites 2, Tavis Smiley 2, Obama 2, England 2, U.s. 2, Holland 1, Ben Franklin Recruiting Moses 1, Abraham 1, Benjamin Franklin 1, Andre Agassi 1, Kris Kristofferson 1
Network WHUT
Duration 00:30:00
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 528
Pixel height 480